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Little Linguist: Makes Language Learning Fun!
Written: Feb 10, 2001 (Updated Feb 15, 2001)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
- User Rating: Excellent
Pros:Educational language tool. Easy to use. Adapts to your child
Cons:Expensive. Limited number of characters. Occasionally makes mistakes.
The Bottom Line: This is a fun, engaging and educational language toy. Try to find it on sale, though. The full retail price of $70 is a bit steep for what you get.
I really hadn't seriously considered getting the Little Linguist by Neurosmith because my youngest child (20 months) is learning language so quickly on his own. However, I'm a sucker for a good sale and when eToys put this toy on sale for $16.99 I couldn't resist (itís normally $70). I figured if it was a flop with my son that I could always pass it on to a friend with a younger baby. Besides, it came highly recommended by my dear Epinions pal, sgentile, so I knew it was worth a try.
What is the Little Linguist?
Like its highly popular cousin, Music Blocks, this Neurosmith toy is an engaging, interactive educational toy. The Little Linguist is designed to teach some of the basics of language to a child through play. The toy keeps track of the childís progress during a play session and adapts in difficulty to suit the individual child.
The white circular base for this toy is 11" in diameter and has a built-in blue handle for easy portability. In the center top of the base is a recessed circle where the individual figures are placed. The center circle is surrounded by gold and red lights. On one side of the base are two large round buttons, blue and red. On the opposite side is a slot for the individual language cartridge.
OK. First thing to do (after installing the 4 "C" batteries) is to select a language cartridge and insert it all the way into the slot. Note: You really have to push it in firmly because it wonít work unless itís all the way in. Then your child just places one of the individual figures in the center circle and they can hear the name of the figure. Pushing the blue button repeats the name and pushing the red button gives the sound associated with the figure (like doorbell for house and "Moo" for cow).
The pieces fit easily into the circle and are actually "sucked" into place by a magnet. You can turn the whole thing on its side or upside down and the piece wonít fall out. However, they are easy to lift out, even for a baby.
Iíll elaborate more on the features of the Little Linguist below. If you are already familiar with this toy and donít want to be bored, you might want to skip ahead to the sections on how my kids reacted to it. I can bore you there instead. :)
~~Variety of figures: The fifteen figures that come with the toy are all brightly colored chunky figures that fit well into baby and toddler hands. They are big enough to avoid a choking hazard but surprisingly light (which is good if you get beaned in the head with one!). The figures are: cat, cow, dog, pig, bird, monkey, elephant, house, lion, tree, horse, train, car, plane, and boat. What? No desktop computer? SighÖitís obviously out-of-date. The figures come with a white mesh bag to help keep them all in place. No small feat with this many loose parts.
~~Explore and challenge modes: The toy can be played with in one of two modes. In the explore mode, the child just places a figure in the circle and the toy says its name. In the challenge mode, the center circle is left empty and the child pushes on a button. The toy then names an object. If the child puts that correct object in the circle, they are rewarded with a brief musical tune. The lights surrounding the inner circle flash while the toy is in challenge mode. The toy wonít ask for a figure in challenge mode until it has been introduced in the explore mode.
~~Three different levels: This toy adapts to the childís play by adjusting the difficulty level. At the first level, the emphasis is on learning words. Just the name of the figure (i.e. "Cow") will be given in the explore mode or asked for in the challenge mode ("Cow?"). At the second level, the focus shifts to learning simple sentences, such as "This is the cow" or "Give me the cow." At this level, the toy acknowledges correct responses with "Yes, this is the cow." Finally, the third level builds in adjectives to the sentences Ė in particular, color names. The child will hear "This is a black and white cow" or "Please give me the black and white cow." Correct responses are followed by a "Thank you." Incorrect responses are followed with a sentence identifying the character, such as "This is the cat."
~~English or EspaŮol: The Little Linguist comes with two language cartridges, English and Spanish, but you can also buy others (French, Japanese, and possibly more) for $19.99. We bought the Japanese cartridge because it was also on sale for $3.99.
~~Volume switch: On the underside of the base is a high-low volume switch. Very much appreciated.
~~Automatic start up and shut-off: There are no on/off buttons. The toy automatically turns on and says "Hello!" if a new cartridge is inserted, if a character is placed in the center circle, or if one of the buttons is pushed. It automatically shuts off after 45 seconds of inactivity, saying "Goodbye!"
My 20 Month Oldís Reaction to the Little Linguist: Gleeful Pounding
My youngest child was the intended recipient of this toy. He was pretty thrilled to see all the little characters. He immediately grabbed the car and started pushing it around on the floor - Vroom! He was a bit discouraged to see that this lame little car didnít have wheels! Soon he was into putting the pieces into the center of the Little Linguist base and hearing their names and sounds. He delights in slamming the pieces in as hard as he can and pounding them up and down. So far the toy has held up fine through his abuse.
He has participated some in the challenge mode but gets bored quickly with it and just selects any figure, not really caring if heís correct or not. The Little Linguist just doesnít grab his attention nearly as much as the Music Blocks do. Iím hoping that heíll settle down and play with this more intently in the coming weeks. Weíll seeÖ
My 3 Year Oldís Reaction: Patience and Precision
In contrast, my three-year-old is absolutely fascinated with this toy. Iím not sure why because she already knows all the words and has no trouble putting them into sentences with color adjectives. However, she loves to line all the figures up and try each one in the circle in turn. Then she goes through the challenge mode, very methodically responding to each request. She also loves putting all the pieces away in the little mesh bag. A bit on the compulsive side, if you ask me, but thatís her style.
Mostly she plays with the English cartridge but occasionally she puts in the Spanish or Japanese ones. Neither of them keeps her interest for long, though.
My 5 Year Oldís Reaction: "Gracias, MamŠ"
Much to my surprise, it is my oldest child that seems to be getting the most out of this "baby" toy. He immediately selected the Spanish cartridge and started exploring the different character names. Soon he started challenging himself and within a 10 minute period had already learned the Spanish word for cat (gato), dog (perro), bird (pŠjaro), cow (vaca), elephant (elefante), and house (casa)! He might have even learned more but these are the oneís I witnessed.
I was even more surprised when he spontaneously used one of the Spanish words while he was playing on the computer today and saw a cat - "Look, Mama...Gato!"
And What Do I Think? °Muy Bien!
So far Iíve been pleasantly surprised and pleased with this toy. No, my youngest is not enthralled with it yet, but heís only had it for a week. I suspect heíll play with it more in the weeks and months to come. Iím especially pleased with my five year oldís interest in and success with Spanish. No, he wonít become bilingual using the Little Linguist. However, it can help build his confidence and his interest in learning another language. I also like the fact that the words "Please" and "Thank you" are modeled with this toy. As far as Iím concerned, my kids cannot get enough appropriate modeling in this area.
Initially I was concerned about the use of this toy by multiple children of different ability levels. If it adapts to a childís ability level, it will naturally adapt to my oldest child and therefore may move too fast and be too difficult for my youngest. However, it appears to "start over" when it has turned off for awhile (as long as you start in the "explore" mode) so it should be able to adapt to each child as they use it. Of course, the starting over may be frustrating for some kids but it hasn't been for mine. After all, they don't know they are learning anything - they just think they are having fun! It would be nice if you could program the Little Linguist for different users like you can with many educational software programs but I guess that's too much to ask for.
There are a few things that Iím less than satisfied about the Little Linguist, though they are minor. First of all, Iím disappointed in the limited selection of characters. It doesnít take long to master these. It would be nice if Neurosmith offered enhancement sets. On the other hand, I donít know how we would keep track of more characters. Itís a hard problem to solve.
Another problem is that the toy makes an occasional "crackling" or "sizzling" sound. Iím not sure if that spells trouble or not, but at least it still works. It also once, right after being turned on, incorrectly identified the monkey as a lion. At the next push of the button, it correctly identified the monkey. If this happens a lot, then that could be a serious problem. Children learning a language don't need that kind of confusion.
Finally, I just want to emphasize the fact that this toy only focuses on receptive language (the understanding of spoken language). It does nothing directly to address expressive language. However, an adult can always adapt their play with the child to encourage more expressive language by having the child name the objects, too.
Parting Note and Disclaimer
Even though I give the Little Linguist a favorable nod, I donít want to imply that use of this toy can or should take the place of the natural language learning process that occurs between parent and child. The best thing a parent can do to help a child learn language is to talk to them frequently, read to them regularly, listen to what the child has to say and show a genuine interest in their communication. In the language learning adventure, the Little Linguist is just a fun side trip.
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Amount Paid (US$): 16.99
Type of Toy: Educational
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